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Memoirs of a Cavalier A Military Journal of the Wars in Germany, and the Wars in England. From the Year 1632 to the Year 1648.   By: (1661?-1731)

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A Military Journal of the Wars in Germany, and the Wars in England. From the Year 1632 to the Year 1648.

By Daniel Defoe

Edited with Introduction and Notes by Elizabeth O'Neill



Daniel Defoe is, perhaps, best known to us as the author of Robinson Crusoe , a book which has been the delight of generations of boys and girls ever since the beginning of the eighteenth century. For it was then that Defoe lived and wrote, being one of the new school of prose writers which grew up at that time and which gave England new forms of literature almost unknown to an earlier age. Defoe was a vigorous pamphleteer, writing first on the Whig side and later for the Tories in the reigns of William III and Anne. He did much to foster the growth of the newspaper, a form of literature which henceforth became popular. He also did much towards the development of the modern novel, though he did not write novels in our sense of the word. His books were more simple than is the modern novel. What he really wrote were long stories told, as is Robinson Crusoe , in the first person and with so much detail that it is hard to believe that they are works of imagination and not true stories. "The little art he is truly master of, is of forging a story and imposing it upon the world as truth." So wrote one of his contemporaries. Charles Lamb, in criticizing Defoe, notices this minuteness of detail and remarks that he is, therefore, an author suited only for "servants" (meaning that this method can appeal only to comparatively uneducated minds). Really as every boy and girl knows, a good story ought to have this quality of seeming true, and the fact that Defoe can so deceive us makes his work the more excellent reading.

The Memoirs of a Cavalier resembles Robinson Crusoe in so far as it is a tale told by a man of his own experiences and adventures. It has just the same air of truth and for a long time after its first publication in 1720 people were divided in opinion as to whether it was a book of real memoirs or not. A critical examination has shown that it is Defoe's own work and not, as he declares, the contents of a manuscript which he found "by great accident, among other valuable papers" belonging to one of King William's secretaries of state. Although his gifts of imagination enabled him to throw himself into the position of the Cavalier he lapses occasionally into his own characteristic prose and the style is often that of the eighteenth rather than the seventeenth century, more eloquent than quaint. Again, he is not careful to hide inconsistencies between his preface and the text. Thus, he says in his preface that he discovered the manuscript in 1651; yet we find in the Memoirs a reference to the Restoration, which shows that it must have been written after 1660 at least. There is abundant proof that the book is really a work of fiction and that the Cavalier is an imaginary character; but, in one sense, it is a true history, inasmuch as the author has studied the events and spirit of the time in which his scene is laid and, though he makes many mistakes of detail, he gives us a very true picture of one of the most interesting periods in English and European history. The Memoirs thus represent the English historical novel in its beginnings, a much simpler thing than it was to become in the hands of Scott and later writers.

The period in which the scene is laid is that of the English Civil War, in which the Cavalier fought on the side of King Charles I against the Puritans. But his adventures in this war belong to the second part of the book. In the first part, he tells of his birth and parentage, the foreign travel which was the fashionable completion of the education of a gentleman in the seventeenth century, and his adventures as a volunteer officer in the Swedish army, where he gained the experience which was to serve him well in the Civil War at home. Many a real Cavalier must have had just such a career as Defoe's hero describes as his own... Continue reading book >>

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